TODAY’S headlines may be dominated by famines, floods, scandals, wars and murders most foul, but so were reports of the past – as a new historical book reveals.
Indeed, a glance through Deaths, Disasters and Dastardly Deeds in the North East – penned by former Sunderland teacher Lorna Windham – shows little has changed over the centuries.
“Deaths, disasters and dastardly deeds have always been with us,” said Lorna, who was born in South Shields. “My book is about people and their struggle to survive against the odds.
“It says something about the human spirit that most people who have suffered the worst life, the elements and fellow humans beings can throw at them, refuse to be bowed and carry on.
“Disasters in coal mines, freak weather conditions, fires, plague and pestilence, the North East has seen them all. Caused by nature or man, they remind us of the fragility of life.”
Floods, fires, witch hunts and financial meltdowns pack the pages of Lorna’s new book – proving violence, hate crime and freak weather conditions are not just modern occurrences.
Tales of Sunderland’s cholera epidemic, the Black Plague, convict transportation, wars, riots, persecuted priests and torture are included too, as are duals at dawn and cannibalism.
“Death is one of the last taboos,” said Lorna. “We don’t like talking about it, and most of us live our lives as if it is never going to happen to us or our loved ones.
“Those who lived centuries before us were less removed from death, as it was a persistent threat. Death could come by accident or murderous design.
“Repeated invasions meant constant danger. Those with differing religious beliefs to that of the established church were executed, and minor offenders suffered capital punishment.”
Lorna was inspired to document local deaths, disasters and nasty deeds after unearthing scores of tales while researching her previous book, Crime and Punishment in the North East.
Stories of famine, pit explosions, sickness and executions all lay buried in ancient documents and manuscripts, as did reports on murderous spouses, religious traitors and army attacks.
“An unfortunate truth is: we’re all going to die,” said Lorna. “Most of us would probably prefer to pass away in our own beds, but some people were not allowed that luxury.
“Just as man has always had the propensity to commit courageous and honourable acts, he has the ability to commit dastardly deeds. Deeds that are cruel, cowardly and wicked.
“Who says history doesn’t repeat itself?”
l Deaths, Disasters & Dastardly Deeds in the North East, by Lorna Windham, is published by Summerhill Books at £9.99.